Photos from the 2011 Catholic Youth Spectacular are available for viewing and purchase online here.
BLOOMFIELD – Archbishop Henry J. Mansell was clearly impressed during the Catholic Youth Spectacular at the Archdiocesan Center at St. Thomas Seminary Sept. 18 as more than 2,000 youths and young adults carried armloads of food and clothing for hungry and homeless people in the Archdiocese of Hartford.
"You brought up those gifts – socks, clothes, all sorts of different foods, flowers to appoint the altar for the celebration of Mass, conscious that you were bringing up things that would help people in need, sensitive to their needs," he said in his homily at the Mass at the end of the day. "That is the real message, recognizing that God has given us so much."
Shawnee Baldwin, coordinator of the event, sponsored by the Office of Religious Education (ORE), said that the "ton of food" collected will go to the Backpack Program through Foodshare, a regional food bank with a pantry in Bloomfield. The socks and other clothing will be donated to Immaculate Conception Shelter in Hartford.
"The weather’s been fantastic," Ms. Baldwin said, adding that all six Catholic Youth Spectaculars have now been blessed with sunny afternoons. "We had kind of a slow start. We didn’t have power to start with but we have lots of power now," she added, pointing to a pair of gas generators feeding electricity to the loudspeakers.
This year’s theme was "CH _ _ CH, Come as UR: Being, Becoming, Believing" and featured a scavenger hunt, Stations of the Cross, a talent show, a rosary walk, a personal appearance by New Britain Rock Cats’ mascot Rocky, the sacrament of reconciliation and more. Employees of The Catholic Transcript manned one of 11 information tables. Concessions and a picnic lunch were available.
Singer/songwriter Joia Farmer warmed up the young attendees, who were gathered on blankets on the south lawn. Then APeX Ministries, Christian vaudeville evangelists featuring Gene Monterastelli and Mrs. Farmer’s husband Brad Farmer, held the youths spellbound with jokes and juggling.
Mr. Farmer told a sad but uplifting story about his sister Brittany, who died as a child after suffering a debilitating illness. As she lay in a hospital bed, he was home praying the rosary and saw a vision of her running, something that her illness made impossible.
"At that moment, I never felt such an intense peace before in my life. I had no idea where that came from," he said. It was then that his parents called from the hospital to report that Brittany had died.
"The power of prayer is real," he said. "It’s not just words that we say, motions we go through to psychologically make us feel better. Prayer is a very real force in our lives. To be able to have that personal, intimate relationship with our God, our Creator, that’s what it’s all about, folks."
Karen Herbert, a parishioner at St. Mary Star of the Sea Parish in Unionville, was there with a group representing Not For Sale, an all-volunteer activist group raising awareness of companies that employ slave labor. The group performed a skit called "The Dark Side of Chocolate," urging people to research candy manufacturers before buying their favorite brand.
Sharon M. Gagne, youth ministry leader from St. James Parish in Rocky Hill, was one of the exhibitors, selling copies of her book, The Ultimate Pilgrimage for Catholic Youth, about World Youth Day. "I brought kids from my parish to be with kids from other parishes," she said. "I also came to sell my book and my photos and to talk to kids about sharing their faith not only here but in other countries. So far it’s been great."
"We are called to respond, to help our neighbors," Archbishop Mansell said in his homily. "Each of you has an inner eye that sees the needs of people in trouble. You have an inner ear that hears their call for help. You are responding to God’s summons to push back the frontiers of suffering."
He said that the youths are the future leaders who will continue to see that the Catholic Church remains the largest provider, after government, of social services in Connecticut. "Today I ask you to continue the wonderful work you are doing, to continue to hold fast, to maintain, to be rooted, to dig deep wells. Thank you all so very much."
The next Catholic Youth Spectacular is scheduled for Sept. 30, 2012.